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Wednesday, June 11, 2008 03:41 pm

Saving Jane Austen

Thursday’s next task — keeping the Bennets from becoming too real

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Thursday Next: First Among Sequels By Jasper Fforde, Viking, 2007, 384 pages, $24.95 (paperback release July 29)
Untitled Document Book lovers, if you haven’t already discovered Jasper Fforde, don’t. Danger: addiction. Where else will you find Thursday Next, a literary detective who can jump into books and save the world for Reading? In this latest Next novel there are actually three Thursdays, the “real” one (the quotes are for you), who lives in the Outland, and the Thursdays who’ve appeared in the novels written about her exploits, Thursday 1-4, who is violent, sexy, foulmouthed, and basically evil, and Thursday 5, a namby-pamby New Agey dweeb written as an antidote to Thursday 1-4. She stars in The Great Samuel Pepys Fiasco but continually fails with her chai tea and lotus position, rendering Fiasco unloved and unread. The Outland Read-O-Meter is dropping dramatically as Outlanders quit reading. DVDs, video games, and coffeehouses take over; in a bookstore one can scarcely find a rack of books. The formerly reading public is now addicted to reality TV. BookWorld is understandably alarmed. Thursday is currently out to save Pride and Prejudice, as well as the whole Austen collection, from becoming Reality-Book-TV, where viewers watch a task set for the Bennets, then decide which of the characters should go as the show moves on to the next task and chapter. Mr. Bennet, refusing to cooperate, retires to his study, but Lydia thinks it will all be great fun. The Outland’s giant corporation, Goliath (which has also learned to bookjump, a skill explained later in this review), is perfecting a tourist bus, the Austen Rover, which will take 20 passengers (for a fee) on a tour of Austen country to gawk at Pemberley, gather autographs, and generally become nuisances within the text. In BookWorld one can leap from genre to genre if one has the skill or else take an intergenre taxi, often dangerous — going through Poetry is especially hazardous. Also, the juxtaposition of Racy Novel between Ecclesiastical and Feminist is causing problems. Changes are abrupt — one jumps from an ethics lecture on Moral Dilemmas (unpublished, in the Sea of Lost Texts) to “The Wreck of the Hesperus” when actually heading for “dark and stormy night.” Mrs. Tiggywinkle, a major gumshoe on the BookWorld detective force, works with King Pellinore; they’re investigating how all the rollicking humor got subtracted from Hardy. The Lord of the Rings is in the shop, being refitted, as a result of wear and tear; Harry Potter absents himself from a meeting because of copyright problems; Sherlock Holmes doesn’t return from the Reichenbach Falls, so the rest of the series is in danger of erasure. One visits, briefly, Oral Tradition (vague), Geppetto’s kitchen, the Ormond Hotel, elsewhere. The more widely read you are in all genres, the more fun you’ll have with Thursday’s alightings and the hilarious allusions. A fairly straightforward quote: “Last year’s BookCon decision to lift the restriction on Abstract Concepts attending as delegates opened the floodgates to a multitude of Literary Theories and Grammatical Conventions who spent most of the time pontificating loftily and causing trouble in the bar, where fights broke out at the drop of a participle. When Poststructuralism got into a fight with Classicism they were all banned, something that upset the Subjunctives no end . . .”
Listen, this book is impossible to review. If it sounds muddled, so be it. Read for yourself.
Jacqueline Jackson, books and poetry editor of Illinois Times, is a professor emerita of English at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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